NSFW -- and, yes, Jim Delany is absolutely the pimp.
As the wheels grind on towards the creation of a divisional Big Ten and a forthcoming Big Ten championship game, details are starting to trickle out. We know the inaugural 2011 edition of the game is going to be held in Indianapolis. And now we know that Jim Delany intends to ask for a king's ransom for the rights to televise that game:
The inaugural Big Ten Championships will be held in 2011 at Lucas Oil Stadium, and Big Ten officials think they can get $15 million to $20 million annually in TV money from the game.
Sources close to negotiations said ESPN/ABC, which has the current rights to the Big Ten’s regular football season, and Fox are the frontrunners to secure TV rights for the championship game.
First: please oh please for the love of god please do not sell the rights to FOX. We're still recovering from the trauma inflicted by their coverage of the non-Rose Bowl BCS games over the past four years. Second: selling the conference championship game as a separate item from the regular season TV package is a novel concept, although also a necessary one in this case since there was no inkling that a Big Ten championship game would be a possibility when the Big Ten signed its new deal with ABC/ESPN a few years ago.
Still: $15-20M for one game? For reference's sake, the Pac 10 currently pulls in barely more than that amount ($25M) from ESPN (ooh, pretty graph) for an entire regular season of games. So why does Delany think he can demand such crazy space money from the networks?
It's all about the markets:
"Eighteen million viewers is a very, very strong number for the SEC," Morton said. "Still, the Big Ten has much larger markets in the Midwest than the SEC does in the Southeast. And we know people in the Midwest love college athletics.
"Even if the SEC has better teams right now, they just can’t match the markets of Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus (Ohio), Chicago, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. The Big Ten markets have far more homes, which means more eyeballs watching. And that means more dollars for the Big Ten."
It's worth noting that the 18M viewers the SEC pulled in for last year's conference title game was also the result of a unique confluence of events: #1 vs. #2, a much-hyped rematch from a classic game a year ago, two of the biggest coaching personalities in football, and the presence of arguably the most popular player of the last decade. 18M people probably wouldn't tune in to see Ole Miss play Georgia. (Then again, 18M people wouldn't tune in to watch Illinois play Wisconsin, either.) But yeah: suck it, demographics.
Nor is Delany done squeezing more money out of the networks -- he's planning to ask ESPN to up their deal for regular season games when Nebraska and their big red army of fans join the conference. And in a world where the ACC can fleece ESPN for $155M a year for their TV rights, there's little reason to think that the most recognizable brand name in college sports can't pull in even more filthy lucre. That also doesn't factor in the substantial revenue the Big Ten figures to continue to receive from the Big Ten Network (RO*TEL forever, bitches), meaning that the Big Ten is well-positioned to continue winning the battle of the bank balances. Now if they could just do something about winning those battles for the crystal football...
In tangentially related news, the Big Ten is also pondering the possibility of lumping its football, men's basketball, and women's basketball championship games/tournaments together at a single location in a package deal. That's good news for Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, and nominally Minneapolis (although the Target Center and the Metrodome are such depressing venues that it would be catastrophically poor P.R. to hold Big Ten championship events there), but likely bad news for intriguing football championship possibilties like Green Bay.